How to Enjoy a Road Trip with Your Dog: The Complete Guide

Everyone is so excited about the upcoming road trip with the dog, especially because it’s the first time he’ll be joining you!! I have a lot of experience traveling with my dogs on planes, in cars and caravans so I’m going to give you the tips you need to ensure you have an awesome time.  

Preparation and list making are key to having a great time on the road with your dog. It may seem silly to write down all your dog’s supplies for example but trust me, as unlikely as it seems the chances are great you’ll leave the house without his leash.

**There are affiliate links in this post which means, if you purchase anything I may receive a commission. This has no effect on the price you pay.**

Can dogs go on long car rides?

Absolutely, but it doesn’t mean they’re all going to enjoy it!

How do I get my dog to like the car?

The technique is called desenzitisation and I’m going to outline a step by step process for you to follow. You would follow the process whether it’s a car, motor home or caravan. Since I have no idea how your dog feels about the car (or any vehicle), I’m going to assume he hates it and start there. How long it takes to get through the steps will depend on your dog’s level of distaste for car rides. There are no guarantees this will help every dog, but it’s worth a try.  

NOTE: There is no benefit to rushing, it can set your training back.

NOTE: If at any time your dog seems even slightly nervous, end the training. Pick up next time at the point where he was still calm and progress more slowly. 

Step 1

Have a pouch full of treats your dog absolutely loves but doesn’t normally get. It’s best to save that kind of treat for when you need to bring out the big guns. Give him very small pieces, you don’t want him gaining weight or getting ill.

Step 2

Start at the point where your dog is fine. For example, let’s say he’s fine when he sees the car in the driveway, as long as it’s through the window of the house, but not past that point.

Okay, so as long as he’s calm while looking out the window at the car give him a treat. Do that a few times.

Step 3

Stand in the doorway with the door open so he can see the car more clearly (keep him on a leash!). If he’s fine, give him a treat. If he’s still calm while staring at it for another second or two, give him a treat.

Step 4

The door is open now take one step towards the car, give him a treat if calm.

Step 5

Take another step towards the car, give him a treat if calm, another step then another.

Step 6

You are now standing near the car and giving him a treat.

Step 7

The door to the car is open, your dog is standing next to it and feeling okay, give him a treat.

Step 8

You’ve now put your dog in the car, taken him out right away, treat.

Step 9

Your dog is sitting in the car with the door closed, treat

Step 10

You should now be able to drive to the end of the driveway, with your dog in the car and he’s okay. Treat.

Step 11

Congratulations, you’ve driven down the street and back. Treat.

I’m sure you can guess the rest of the steps.

I realize it sounds like a nightmare but don’t worry. As I explained earlier, I’m assuming the worst and giving you an example of the baby steps that may be required. It’s entirely possible the process will go quicker for you and your dog.

How to Enjoy a Road Trip With Your Dog The Complete Guide

Plan dog friendly places to visit

You may live in a very dog friendly town, but don’t assume everywhere else is like that. Do some research in advance for dog friendly parks, pubs, restaurants, stores and activities in the area you’ll be visiting.

Don’t have plans, just seeing where the open road takes you? That’s an exciting way to travel, and bringfido.com and dogfriendly.com will help no matter where you end up.

What can I give my dog to keep him calm on a road trip?

♦ If you’re going to feed your dog before you set off, do it at least 3 hours before you go. The last thing you need is your dog getting nauseous.

♦ Take your dog for a walk before you leave. Tiring him out will help with anxiety and he’ll rest more comfortably during the journey.

♦ Even if you’re sure he’ll be fine, bring calming aids just in case. Crowds, unexpected thunderstorms and new environments can unsettle even the most laid-back animals.

♦ Finding something that works for your dog is often a case of trial and error, and sometimes it’s a combination of products that will be most effective.

Calming music – There is no shortage of free dog calming music on Youtube. My favorite, because it worked so well for my dog is called Through a Dog’s EarDon’t wait until you’re on the road to try them, do that in the house in advance of your trip so you can find the one that relaxes him the most.

Rescue Remedy for Pets – a combination of 5 Bach flower remedies, it is used to treat anxiety. Add 3 or 4 drops to his water bowl, or start with 1 drop in his mouth or on his food.

Calming chews – another option for helping relieve anxiety, you can find plenty of natural products that contain ingredients such as valerian, melatonin or cbd oil.

Thundershirt – provides gentle calming pressure that relaxes around 80% of dogs that wear them. For more information visit their website

Valerian or Valerian with SkullcapValerian is an herbal supplement with mild sedative properties that can help with anxiety. 

Adaptil – made of pheromones naturally soothing to dogs, it is available as a plug in, collar or spray.

Anti-anxiety medication – for severe cases of anxiety, your vet could prescribe medication. Start with a low dose to take the edge off and try it before your trip.   

What is the best way to keep a dog safe in the car, caravan or motorhome?

For the safety of everyone in the vehicle, dogs should be restrained while you’re driving. If you have to brake suddenly or are involved in a fender bender, your dog could get seriously injured. All humans are strapped in for that reason, why not your dog?

A crate, dog car seat or seat belt are all options worth exploring, do your research to decide which one is the best choice for you.

Read this – Car Accessories for Dogs

How to help a dog with mobility issues in and out of the vehicle

If your dog has trouble getting in and out of your vehicle, a dog ramp or pet steps are the perfect solution.

Ramps and steps are available in different sizes, styles and prices so you’re bound to find one that suits your needs. Before purchasing a ramp keep in mind the degree of incline. Too high and your dog may not be able to use it, so aim for gradual if possible. If your dog is wobbly on his feet, look for a ramp with raised sides.

Many dogs have trouble using a ramp when they first see it, so try this!

Put a treat he loves at the bottom of the ramp, and if he approaches and eats it no problem. Now put the treat higher up the ramp, then the next one a little higher. If he hesitates at any time, leave it and try again later. Start at the bottom again, and very slowly work your way up. More effective if you keep all training sessions short.

If you’re running out of time, and he’s not yet ready to use the ramp, get some help to put him in the car. Bring the ramp with you and practice on the trip.

Read this – What is the Best Car Ramp for Large Dogs

How to have an awesome road trip with the dog

Tips for during the journey

Keep your dog hydrated, particularly if you are travelling in warm weather. Just because the air conditioning is on doesn’t mean your pup won’t get thirsty. Keep a water bottle and bowl handy.

A toiletry bag with compartments will keep all the supplies you need during the journey close to hand.

Stop often enough to allow your dog to take care of business, and get some exercise. If you’re traveling with an old dog who is peeing more often, take that into consideration.

Depending on how long your drive is, you may also need to schedule in a meal break. If you know your dog doesn’t get car sick that’s great, but if you’re not sure then be on the safe side and keep the portions small. 

You might be stopping in a busy area, so don’t let your dog out of the car on the traffic side.

Designated rest stops have plenty of light from gas stations and restaurants if your journey is taking you through the night. However, if you pull over in a dark area why not put a high viz vest on your dog so you, and others, can easily see him. A flashing dog collar, light up leash and flashlight are also good ways to stay as visible as possible.

When stopping for a break for the humans in your group, never leave the dog alone in the car, even if you think it will only be for a few minutes. It won’t take long for your dog to suffer heatstroke and die in hot weather, or freeze to death in cold. You also never know who spots him alone and snatches him. If you’re traveling alone you may not have a choice, so at least set the car alarm.

Dogs have very sensitive hearing, so don’t blast the radio or movie player.

How often should you stop when on a road trip with a dog?

I recommend sticking to your dog’s normal routine as much as possible, although I understand that isn’t always possible. I also think it’s a good idea to make an extra stop or two for a pee break, fresh air and a short walk.

At home your dog may not go out for 4 or 5 hours, but they have the opportunity to walk around, change positions, find a new toy but in the car, especially if they’re in a crate, they are pretty much stuck.

4 ways to keep your dog entertained on the road

  1. Bring his favorite chew toy or snack filled Kong. Freeze it before you leave and it will last longer
  2. A puzzle toy will keep him busy
  3. How about buying a couple of new toys just for the trip?
  4. Tug of war is a fun thing to play when you’re at a rest stop, and will help get rid of some of that pent up energy. Keep him on a harness and leash and only play if there’s a large grassy area away from cars.

Keeping your dog safe at rest stops  

If you’ve always allowed your dog to jump out of the car as soon as the door opens, you might want to stop that and teach him to “wait.” It’s much too dangerous for him to leap out of the car at a rest stop, because of the number of cars and trucks about.

Put a harness and a leash on your dog before you open the door, and even though he has excellent recall, do not let him off leash while traveling. An unfamiliar place with new sights and sounds may be too tempting and if he takes off, what then?

What to pack for a dog on a road trip

  • Collar and tag with current contact info, to be worn at all times
  • Food
  • Treats
  • Water
  • Bowls
  • Travel water bottle/collapsible water bowl
  • Leash
  • Harness – even if your dog doesn’t wear one, it’s safer in a new place
  • Poop bags
  • Toys/chew toys/treat dispensing toys/puzzles
  • Bed
  • Blanket
  • Medication
  • Current vet records
  • Towels
  • Doggy cleaning wipes
  • First aid kit – buy it ready made or make your own
  • Flashlight – for walking and cleaning up poop at night
  • Flashing dog collar
  • High viz vest
  • Life jacket
  • Up to date photo in case he goes missing
  • Health and vaccination records, including rabies certificate. Even if you’re staying relatively close to home, you never know when you may need them
  • While technically not something you bring, please ensure your dog is microchipped and all contact details are current

Read this – How to Make a Pet First Aid Kit

HELPFUL TIP: Always bring extra medication, food, treats and poop bags. You never know where you’ll end up, or how much longer you’ll stay.  

HELPFUL TIP: Download a first aid app onto your phone…just in case.

HELPFUL TIP: Make a list of local vets and emergency hospitals where you’ll be staying. Don’t wait until you need it and waste precious time searching.

DOWNLOADABLE AND PRINTABLE CHECKLIST

Tote bag for dog stuff

I used to pack all the dog stuff in a knapsack. It would start off so neatly organized, and by the end things were flying around and I couldn’t find a thing. Now I use a top opening picnic hamper and it’s brilliant. You can clearly see where everything is, it’s easy to access and stays organized.

You may have something like that around the house, or check out these amazing dog travel bags.

 

For information about my virtual training and dog care consultancy service, and to book an appointment, please visit my services page.

 

Hindy Pearson
I am a dog trainer and behaviour consultant, specialising in working with first time dog owners. Whether you're thinking of getting a dog and aren't sure if it's the right time, or you've been sharing your life with one for awhile but there are issues you can't resolve, I am here for you. No matter where in the world you live I can help.

6 Comments

  1. Beth Patterson

    These are wonderful tips! One of my dogs doesn’t travel well. I have tried creating positive associations, but I haven’t been using high enough value treats. I’m going to try again!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I love a food motivated dog!!

      Reply
  2. The Dash Kitten Crew

    Being prepared is key isn’t it. Just setting off will not work with a dog. You need to tick items off your list so that you all have a good trip.

    I have read stories of dogs escaping from cars and not being found for weeks. Closed doors and constant vigilance make a huge differences.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Preparation really is key for a happy time for everyone. I know those stories are so sad, and even though accidents can happen even with the best preparation, so many unfortunate incidents could have easily been prevented.

      Reply
  3. Dorothy "FiveSibesMom"

    Excellent tips, Hindy! With my Huskies loving car rides, it is a good point that not all dogs enjoy the car and it is so important to get them used it. Pinned to share!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thank you Dorothy and thanks for pinning!! You’re lucky the Huskies love the car, I had a neighbour whose dog was thrown out of a car when she was young, and ever since then she couldn’t get into one. Poor baby!

      Reply

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